Fishing in the Everglades . . . Snook Trees, Turtles and Sundays
While the winter season hosts more anglers in Everglades National Park (those avoiding the snow), it is the warmer months that trigger the REAL fishing season here.
Beginning in April we see the signs of summer beginning to show. First and foremost, the winds lie down. While the Park offers an incredible amount of sheltered water and is world-renown as a kayak destination, the winter winds still dictate where you can fish in a kayak.
As the winds lay off, many areas, particularly the "outside" open up regularly to the yakero. The "outside" being exposed to the open Gulf of Mexico is susceptible all winter to winds that seem to be always blowing from the "wrong" direction. Coinciding with the calming winds, large schools of bait followed by the big schools of big snook migrate to the shorelines. The tarpon, large and small, begin to roam the beaches, bays, bights, rivers and keys.
By May and June every other sign of summer will be in place. The Royal Poincianas, the "Snook Trees", will be in full bloom. Like a giant red rose, 75 feet across, these magnificent trees bloom signaling the return of the big summer fish When these beauties blossom into their brilliant red covering, they seem to summon in the snook and tarpon. Once these fish are here, they will remain through mid-December or until the second or third cold snap.
Offshore, schools of threadfin herring pop up everywhere. They are "candy" to the big fish that have moved in. But perhaps the real sign of spring out there are the turtles. They are here year round, popping up long enough to breathe, catch your eye and then dive out of sight. However, in spring, you can catch one that does not dive away. Look closely and you will see his/her mate nearby. When courting, they have on thing on their mind and are oblivious to your presence. Soon along with the snook and tarpon, they, too, will hit the beaches.
Perhaps, the best part of the spring/summer transition is Sunday evenings. Friday morning, the weekenders begin to show. They come in for a couple of days to enjoy this magnificent place. BUT, early Sunday afternoon, they head back home. All the guides are off the water as are most of the local fishermen. Sunday evening is Vickie's time. That is when Vickie and I get out. It is time for champagne, sunset, good friends and snook fishing on the beaches. I love the warm months.
Spring and summer is the time for real fisherman seeking real fish here in Everglades National Park and the Ten Thousand Islands. The weather is very predictable, as are the fishing patterns. The fish are typically big and aggressive.
This is a very diverse area offering some wide variety of species and habitat. In the summer time, you can do it all. I simple love this time of year. It is a time when anglers book for a week and we can do something different everyday
However, it can be hot. Like most everywhere else in the South, the best bite is in the very early mornings. Most species of fish tend not be nearly as aggressive in the mid-day as there are early . . . most species, but not all.
The mornings are typically, very calm . . . especially early in the summer. Most mornings there is a convective sea-breeze blowing from shore. This produces a mild ripple (or chop) on the surface of the water. However, just about every outside shoreline and beach is in the lee this time of the year. By mid-day, as the land mass heats up, the breeze will cease and the whole area, including the near offshore areas can go slick calm. About one to two o'clock, the sea breezes will pickup near shore and things will chop up a bit.
During this inversion of the sea breezes, it is time to be offshore in the calm looking for the schools of permit. These fish make a blistering 175 yard run and typically take about 45 minutes to bring boat-side (or yak side).
Perhaps the most difficult thing is deciding what to do. The spring (actually the summer and fall, too), is primetime for kayak fishing. The calm mornings, with the expansive areas of lee shorelines, are perfect for this extreme stealth fishing.
Using the "Yak Attack" as a mother ship, we transport everything and everybody, deep into the Park . . . to areas seldom fished by kayak anglers. The boat is outfitted with comfortable cushioned seating for six, enough coolers and storage for a week's supply for all and a large sub-shade to escape the summer heat. Nestled up front are six completely outfitted Heritage Kayaks Redfish 12 fishing kayaks.
Whether with a family or a group of dedicated hard-core anglers, the fishing patterns dictate an early departure. Leaving before sunrise, we whisk along at 35 knots to our first destination . . . usually a remote beach deep in the Park. Here we establish our "home-base", buddy-up and fish until lunch time. Typically, we will meet back on the beach for a shore lunch, with or without the grill. After lunch, depending on conditions and the group, we will either continue to fish the first area or move to a new one. It truly is a great experience for everyone . . . each enjoying things at their own pace.
The calm mornings mean top water action is at its best. Throwing top water plugs near the oyster bars and mangrove shorelines can produce some of the best snook explosions of the year. There is nothing better than a 20 lb snook crashing top water baits, except maybe the scream of your drag with a racing permit, or the sight of big dinosaur-sized tarpon doing aerobatics. (Well, the sight and sound of a big she-snook crashing top-water baits does rank very high on my list.)
However, top water fishing this time of year can be very frustrating. There can be a lot of by-catch that you must be willing to contend with . . . speckled trout, redfish, tarpon, jack crevalle , ladyfish, sharks, etc.!!! Frustrating, yes, but definitely exciting.
With the abundance of fish and calm conditions, mornings are also great for wade fishing. There is something special about being in the water with the fish. Combine the kayak as a means to get you from one wade fishing spot to another and you are setup for some of the most productive early morning fishing that the Park has to offer.
Unloading from the boat and getting into the water can push the fish around. However, once things settle down, the fish will quickly move back into range. Move slowly, fish thoroughly, and you will do very well. Be sure to work the bait all the way back in. There have been many times that I have had fish strike within 10 feet just as I was about to lift the bait out of the water.
You are low in the water, so you do not see the fish like when being poled in a skiff sight-fishing. But, the fish don't see you very well either, so they will come quite close.
The mornings on the grass flats can also be thrilling. This is the time for plugs over grasses. Typically the speckled trout are a bit smaller than in the cooler months, but there are piles of them. Mixed in are jack, ladyfish and the occasional cobia. When you are in the ladyfish and they suddenly stop biting, be on your toes. The tarpon will come in quickly to feed on the ladyfish. We typically lose one ladyfish per day to these pesky giants. They can really mess up a ladyfish extravaganza!
As you can see, the mornings can be a blast, but there are many other choices. The backcountry, like the river systems is a whole different world to discover. What about the second half of the day? Well, the choices are just as broad ... river tarpon fishing on plug or fly; twilight tarpon/snook trips in the passes, the offshore blue holes for everything that swims; goliath grouper fished with 8 lb jacks as bait; massive schools of permit, sight-fishing cobia and fishing the docks at night are among my favorite.
One thing is for sure, whatever you decided to do, however you decide to fish, when it is warm, is the time to be here.
Capt. Charles Wright